Jr Lule didn’t need a campus visit to convince himself Concordia was right for him. He had never even been farther east than Nevada. He simply followed the migration to Seward, a place where California junior college transfers like himself have thrived.
“I knew that Emilio (Rivera) liked this school,” Lule said. “He said nothing but good things about it so I started looking into Concordia. I didn’t even have a visit here. I just trusted everything Emilio and Coach (Dana) Vote told me. I was like, ‘all right, that’s where I’m going to go.’ I just trusted them.”
That trust paid off. Lule has tech-falled his way to a NAIA North 157-pound title and a second-straight berth to the national championships. So dominant is Lule that he has won 12-straight matches, eight by technical fall. Included in that stretch was a 9-0 major decision that actually made the Blythe, Calif., native upset to the point that he struggled to sleep that night.
Lule doesn’t just beat his opponents, he owns them.
“I want to go out there and break the person,” Lule said. “I don’t know how that sounds to you, but for wrestlers that’s one of the best ways to win by just going out there and mentally and physically breaking the guy. You want to let him know that he can’t compete with you. I love getting those tech falls. When you get a tech fall all the confidence of your opponent goes out the window. They can’t step off the mat saying I’m going to get him next time or that he barely won.”
Head coach Dana Vote has made a habit of taking hidden gems from The Golden State and turning them into dominating performers. Andrew Schulte (Santa Ana College), Enrique Barajas (Sacramento CC) and Rivera (Palomar College), each transfers from California JUCOs, are the last three winners of the GPAC wrestler of the year award. If Schulte had not won the award this year, Lule would have.
There really is no huge secret to Lule’s success. He does not lose matches because the opponent has him out conditioned. After competing at 149 a year ago, the former JUCO All-American is at a more comfortable 157 and has learned how to better manage his body without wearing down for the stretch run.
“Jr has taken it to a new level with his drive to be the best,” Vote said. “He has a clear-cut vision of what he wants to accomplish and is very driven to achieve it. I love the passion and consistency he brings to the room every single day.”
Some of that passion and drive can be traced back to Lule’s roots. Lule, full name Ascary Lule Jr., took it to heart when his father, Ascary Lule Sr., spoke about what wrestling meant to him. Said Jr, “My dad wrestled all through high school and he told me and my older brother Ricky about how it changed his life, how it made him a better person and made him tough. It just made him a hard worker. We really bought into that.”
Jr and Ricky, now an assistant coach at Palomar College, talk as often as they can, discussing what Jr could have possibly done better in his most recent match. Meanwhile, younger brother Robert is a high school wrestler in the state of California. Jr says that when he returns home, he and Robert go through drills with each other in the yard. Now Robert is hooked.
Robert has a great role model in Jr, a lead-by-example type who’s crushing it in his final collegiate season on the mat. Jr has checked off many of the things he hoped to accomplish this season. He’s now 34-7 overall and a regional champion who went undefeated against the GPAC.
He’s dismantling opponents just the way he aspires to. Jr attributes his work routine as a main factor.
“Last year I had to get in so many extra workouts just to get down to weight,” Lule said. “It took a big toll on my body. It accumulated throughout the season. By the time the national tournament came my body was pretty beat up. It was hard to perform at a high level. This year I’m training a lot smarter. I get in my extra workouts, but I’m smarter about it. My body feels great. This is as good as I’ve ever felt going into any postseason from high school to junior college to now. This is the best I’ve felt physically, spiritually and mentally. I feel like it’s all coming together.”
There’s just one more thing to check off the list. Currently ranked fifth nationally in his weight class, Lule expects to make good on the business he left unfinished in 2015 when he fell short of reaching the medal stand. To hear his name recognized as an All-American would be the perfect capper for the one known as Jr.
“That would end my wrestling career in the perfect way, especially with not medaling last year at the national tournament,” Lule said. “It makes this so much better because it’s something that I don’t have and we don’t have in my family. I get a lot of motivation from my family. I like to show them that I’m working hard. My coaches have been talking about that all year. It sticks with you your whole life. It’s one of the best feelings you can have. I’m a junior college All-American but I hardly ever think of that. I think being an All-American in the NAIA would show the hard work I’ve been putting in the last few years.”
The journey that saw Jr follow former Palomar teammate Emilio Rivera to Seward will make a stop in Topeka, Kan., as the 2016 NAIA National Wrestling Championships commence on March 4. This is what Jr has worked for.